Saturday, June 1, 2019

Parents Lead Effort To Reduce Pesticide Use

Twenty seven years ago, in the early 1990's, a group of St. Tammany parents became concerned about how pesticides were being sprayed in municipal and school playgrounds. News had come from other parts of the state where workers had accidentally exposed students to pesticides during routine sprayings, and pesticide application incidents with local playgrounds were also being questioned.

The parents did research, brought in experts, and drafted a plan to implement less toxic methods of pest control for use by public agencies.  Several of those parents were from the Mandeville area.

Parents Speak

It was a classic example of grass-roots efforts to solve a problem that not many people realized was a problem. It was such a powerful story, that in 1996 I produced a two-hour video documentary on how those parental concerns rallied the political forces on the local, parish and state levels to make things better.

The documentary began with three questions: (1) Do pesticides pose a danger to childrens' health and development? (2)  Can pesticides interfere with childrens' ability to learn? and (3) Is there an alternative to chemical pest control?

Pilot Project

The effort resulted in a "pilot project" at two schools in the school system using
less toxic pest control methods. It was such a success that it was then adopted parishwide, and that quickly led to statewide legislation to expand the safer pest control practices to schools throughout Louisiana.

The parents advocated for a relatively new system called 'Integrated Pest Management,' a method of pest control that had proven effective in other parts of the country. The question was "would it work in the Louisiana climate with Louisiana pests?"

How It Progressed

One of the first public meetings on the question involved an informational presentation at Mandeville High School. One of those speakers was Wayne Bruno of the Society for Environmental Education. Click on the play triangle on the video below to hear his introductory comments.


Wayne Bruno video

Parents also brought in consultant Dr. Marion Moses, president and Founder of the Pesticide Education Center (San DIego, CA) . She helped them understand the threats posed by indiscriminate pesticide use. 


Dr. Marion Moses defines a pesticide and its impacts

Several experts recommended that local residents consider trying "Integrated Pest Management." It was viewed as a viable alternative because of its three simple steps: (1) physical barriers would be installed to keep pests from entering buildings in the first place, (2) cleaning up and maintaining interior spaces would reduce the likelihood of pests being provided habitat, and (3) the use of sticky traps and other non-chemical devices to capture and remove pests.

The school board agreed to try the IPM method in a test project at two of the schools. Dr. Ellen Winchell of Mandeville tells about the "pilot project" in public schools.
Ellen Winchell Interview

In gathering information for the video documentary about the effort, I interviewed several parents, the executive director of a state environmental protection group, Mandeville Elementary school principal Laura Allums, School Board member Patti Young, Assistant Superintendent Richard Tanner and Supervisor of Administration Simmie Fairley, who was the person charged with implementing the new program in the schools. 

Although there was some initial skepticism about the program, school officials found a pest control contractor interested in the IPM method who agreed to take part in the pilot project. 

Here is what Tom Smotherman of Smotherman Pest Exterminating Service, Slidell, said about the new system. Click on the "play triangle" to view the video.

 Tom Smotherman talks about the pilot program
(Taped in 1996) 

 It was found that the alternative method was not only effective in reducing pests, but it would even cost less than applying chemical  pesticides. Even though some chemicals were still judiciously used when needed, overall the IPM techniques proved themselves up to the task, even in Louisiana.

State Representative Eddie Deano was so encouraged by the local results, he introduced a bill in the state house to expand the IPM method statewide. 

Eddie Deano Interview

The results of implementing IPM in St. Tammany Parish (over the course of three years) was an outstanding example of parents and school officials working together to protect children and students from toxic exposure to pesticides. As the program was extended in all parish schools, the overall results were encouraging.

The Results

 With its successful first implementation of IPM in Louisiana schools, the St. Tammany Parish Public School System became a source of information about the program, and school systems around the state called local officials to see how they could implement the new pest control methods in their own facilities. The fact that it could cost less to use than the regular chemical pesticide methods was an added incentive. 

The Schools Adopt The Program

Linda Roan of the school system public information office helped sum up the impact of IPM in St. Tammany Parish. 


Linda Roan recaps IPM Implementation
(Interview taped in 1996) 

Overall, switching over to the new procedure was a success story that proved the effectiveness of parents working with politicians working with school system employees to do what was best for the students. 

The two-hour video documentary about the process was put together with the help of Lynn and Randy Perkins of Perkins Productions, whom I thank for the use of their editing equipment and expertise.  


The End Credits for the IPM Documentary
A sunset view at Mandeville Harbor